The recent conference on Mission Conversations: God’s Mission and Migration took place at the BMS World Mission training centre in Birmingham on Saturday the 10th March 2018. The conference was a joint collaboration between BMS and Centre for Missionaries from the Majority World (CMMW), with the aim of facilitating conversation between the local church, the migrant church and mission institutions and agencies.
This brought together people from many different backgrounds and experiences which added to the richness of the time spent together. A particular highlight was the conversations that took place over the lunch and coffee breaks, the breakout sessions and seeing how people exchanged information and contacts. The day was broken into four sessions with key speakers sharing their experiences and involvement related to the topic of mission and migration.
Kang-San Tan, General Director of BMS, set the scene with the introductory session that migrants are both an integral part of the church and also agents of transformation to the church. Looking towards a theological response, he questioned the church’s understanding of migrants. Are they merely seen as mission projects? He further looked at the dynamics and cycle of fear existing in the church towards migrants. Recommendations were made for the church to re-read scriptures in light of migration and to revisit personal and church strategies towards the issue. He briefly reflected on insights from Vietnamese theologian, Peter Phan, on his thoughts around the church and migration. In order to engage, theologians need to visit and hear their stories of exodus and exile so that the church can better address the subject. As the church relate and identify with migrant communities, it will change how they respond to them and value their contribution to the church.
The second session looked at some European experiences between host churches and migrant churches. Baptist minister, Claire Ord, reflected on her experiences of how the migrant church transformed the Italian church during her 16 years of service in Italy. She presented two case studies: one of pastoring a Filipino fellowship which mostly consisted of women who migrated as domestic workers and nannies to Italy. Their church displayed characteristics of unity, prayer, pastoral care and hospitality. However, in society these women remained to be seen as the ‘migrant worker’. Soon after merging with the host church the dynamic of the congregation changed. No longer did they speak in Tagalog or have Filipinos in leadership. This raises the question, is there a place for homogenous churches or even for mono gender churches where people can express themselves freely?
The second case study was based on the Latin American migrants who worked in Italy to better support their large families. In this case the migrant community transformed the local church in different ways. They added their different flavours of prayer, music and enthusiasm to the church community. They soon found themselves welcoming people from different parts of the world participating and forming a multicultural church community.
Claire concluded that in both cases the migrants should have been called missionaries, just like she was called a missionary from Britain to Italy. They should be acknowledged with their skills of leadership and sense of community, their enthusiasm and commitment to the body of believers. The church should also identify with their day to day challenges such as racism, low paid jobs, processing of visa papers, social treatment and ills often linked to migrant communities.
Pastor Girma Bishaw from the Ethiopian Christian Fellowship Church, shared a more personal experience from a refugee’s perspective. He did this by allowing the audience to journey through the different stages of settling, being settled, tension of their purpose in the host nation and finally concluded with their transnational identity as citizens of heaven. This brought great insight to understand how the migrant church acts as a support base during the first two stages of settling in the host country. Throughout the initial stages they looked inward, and the church’s mission field were their Ethiopian community. It is during the tension stage where their eyes were opened to questions such as, “What if God brought us here for mission?” and they start engaging with British issues. The passage in 1 Peter 2:4-10 brings understanding that their citizenship is neither their homeland or the host nation, but in heaven. This transnational identity leads to a transnational responsibility to God and towards the people of whichever country he brought them to.
Rev. Israel Olofinjana, one of the coordinators of the day and the founding director of CCMW, concluded the final session by looking at migration through a scriptural lens. He started off by saying there is no dichotomy between mission and migration, but that it goes hand in hand. Looking at the biblical story of Israel, he journeyed through migratory patterns in the Old Testament narrative and starting with Jesus’ incarnation showed how this theme is continued in the New Testament.
The speakers were not the only contributors, but as already mentioned every participant added great value during the breakout sessions, the open Q & A sessions and conversations over the break times.